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Getting to the Heart Of the Achievement Gap

Getting to the Heart Of the Achievement Gap

Billed as the “African American, Hispanic and Native American Educational Achievement Symposium,” the Educational Testing Service (ETS) convened a two-day forum at their Princeton, N.J., headquarters to highlight informative research and data on the achievement gap among U.S. schoolchildren. The research presentations focused on the educational performance and achievement of minority students at the pre-kindergarten, elementary, secondary and postsecondary levels and their teachers.
“What we sought out to do was to learn from researchers the depth of the achievement gap,” said Dr. Michael Nettles, the vice president of ETS Education Policy & Research Center and the Edmund W. Gordon Chair for Policy Evaluation and Research at ETS.
Among noted scholars who presented achievement gap-related research were Drs. Ronald Ferguson, Edmund Gordon, William Tate, Wade Boykin and Al Young. The appearance by Gordon, whom the New York Times once described “as one of the leading psychologists of our era,” symbolizes a new chapter for ETS in the effort to close the achievement gap among children of different racial and ethnic groups. Earlier this year, ETS named Nettles as the first occupant of the Edmund W. Gordon Chair, an honor that recognizes the research Gordon has conducted in helping scholars understand how the achievement gap might be eliminated.
Gordon, who is a scholar at Columbia University’s Teachers College, along with Dr. Beatrice Bridglall, made a presentation that described the nature of the achievement gap and highlighted the importance of not neglecting the gap between high-achieving minority and majority students. He also presented some findings from exemplary programs that are addressing the gap between high achievers.
Young, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, shared his research about the social environments of Black males growing up in poor inner-city neighborhoods in Chicago and Detroit. He urged researchers to consider and understand the social context from which low-achieving students may come. He also contends there’s too much research that makes wrongful conclusions from observations of the outward behavior of Black males.
“We often think of Black males as unengaged with academics… I posit that one of the mistakes is that we make too many judgments from just observing behavior. The reality is that we don’t get the complete picture by the behavior alone,” Young said, and added that it’s necessary to carefully probe young Black males to understand their attitudes towards academics.
Ferguson, who is a faculty member at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, said the achievement gap is getting considerable attention from leading educational organizations, such as the ETS. “The ETS getting on board shouldn’t be considered surprising given the significance of this issue,” Ferguson said.

— By Ronald Roach

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